THE ALCHEMISTS TAKE OVER

Welcome to 2020 and the informal countdown to the launch of new consoles! Unfortunately, where 2019 proved to be a promising year right off the bat with titles like Resident Evil 2, January 2020 isn’t as lucky. By the end of the year, I imagine we’ll have plenty of interesting experiences that show off the potential of the new Xbox and Playstation 5, but until we get there, we have a gaming landscape that’s paved with ports.

Looking at the list below, there isn’t a lot in the way of new experiences. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, the open world RPG from CyberConnect2, is the highest profile game I could come up with. Like a lot of DBZ games though, it retells the story of the anime, still making it kind of a rehash. The other big game to pay attention to is Journey to the Savage Planet, directed by Alex Hutchinson (Assassin’s Creed III). The developer, Typhoon Studios, was just acquired by Google last month as part of their Stadia division, presumably on the promise of this game.

Personally, I’m looking forward to two Switch ports of games I never got to play myself: To the Moon and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore. One is an acclaimed indie game that came out almost ten years ago. The other is the result of a collaboration between Nintendo and Atlus that became one of the Wii U’s last big exclusives. Looking down the line to February’s release calendar, I have the strong feeling I won’t be playing many, if any, brand new 2020 games until March at the earliest.

Anyway, I hope everyone had a good holiday season. After this post, I’ll be spending the month winding down from my recent review blitz by looking ahead to the 2020 games I’m excited for, preparing some awards, and gearing up for this blog’s second anniversary. See you in February!

Perfect for the winter months.

Monster Hunter: World – Iceborne
(PC)

Publisher: Capcom | Developer: Capcom | Release Date: 1/9/20


What is it?
Iceborne is Capcom’s big expansion to Monster Hunter: World. Heading to PCs a few months after it hit consoles, the existence of this expansion is Capcom’s standard M.O. for Monster Hunter content. Except, where in the past they would re-release a new version of the game with the expansion added in and charge full price, they’re now just selling Iceborne separately.

Why is it Important?
Capcom usually comes roaring into January with a big game to energize an otherwise sleepy release schedule. 2017 saw Resident Evil VII, 2018 brought Monster Hunter: World, and 2019’s Resident Evil 2 is still getting awards as we speak. Releasing the PC port of Iceborne is not as exciting as any of these, but this is the reality of transitional console years. Capcom still has games to release in the months ahead, but until we get to the full Resident Evil 3 remake in April (with the new Resistance multiplayer mode), it’ll be more ports and remakes like this.

RPG overload

Atelier Dusk Trilogy Deluxe Pack
(PC/PS4/Switch)

Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games | Developer: Gust | Release Date: 1/14/20


What is it?
The Atelier Dusk Trilogy is part of the long running Atelier series of RPGs and originally released on the PS3 as: Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk, Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky, and Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea. These entries were later ported to the Vita, and are now bundled together, like the Arland Series Deluxe Pack before it, as a digital compilation for $89.99, or $39.99 each.

Why is it important?
This is the fifth Atelier release in just over a year. Between the Arland Series Deluxe Pack; Atelier Lulua, the latest Arland sequel; the side game Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World; the totally new Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & The Secret Hideout, and now this Dusk Trilogy Deluxe Pack, that’s nine games. That’s a lot of Atelier. To get them all practically requires a second job.

RPG Maker is a force for good.

To the Moon
(Switch)

Publisher: Freebird Games/X.D. Network | Developer: Freebird Games | Release Date: 1/16/20


What is it?
Back in 2011, To the Moon came out of nowhere as an indie adventure made in RPG Maker that gained a lot of acclaim. It ended up in Top Ten lists of various GameSpot editors, among other places. This Switch port is the first time the game has left the PC/mobile space and is remade in the Unity engine. It’s not the longest adventure, but it put Freebird Games on the map and made a lot of people very sad.

Why is it important?
When To the Moon received acclaim back in the day, it was part of a sea change that brought in new ideas of how games could and should be made. Other indie games from this era, like Braid and Shadow Complex, are perhaps more well known, but Freebird Games hasn’t gone anywhere. This new Switch port allows To the Moon a second shot at life. If it does well, perhaps we’ll see its follow ups, A Bird Story and Finding Paradise get Switch ports, too.

What’s new is old.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
(PC/PS4/XB1)

Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment | Developer: CyberConnect2 | Release Date: 1/17/20


What is it?
Give the creators of the epic that is Asura’s Wrath (and a bunch of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Naruto games) license to tackle Dragon Ball Z in RPG form. Get Akira Toriyama to create a new character to put in the story. Hope that CyberConnect2 pulls it off and maybe tease more sequels in a .hack kind of way.

Why is it important?
This game only tackles the beginning of the DBZ saga, so theoretically they have sequels in mind. Even if that’s not the case, CyberConnect2 is an excellent choice to develop game. I agree with Bandai Namco’s decision to have a January release date, too, as it worked out well for Dragon Ball FighterZ back in 2018. I know, different game, different developer, different times, but as long as the reviews are good, I think it’s a pretty safe bet. Fans will buy this game, and so will anyone looking for the biggest game January has to offer.

The circle of friendship.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore
(Switch)

Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Atlus | Release Date: 1/17/20


What is it?
Atlus. Nintendo. Shin Megami Tensei. Fire Emblem. Modern day Tokyo. J-pop idols. Musical numbers. This game is about a lot of strange and surprising elements coming together to make something you can’t get anywhere else. Technically, that last part’s not true because the Wii U version exists, but this is the Encore version with more story and more songs, which probably makes it better.

Why is it important?
One, this game is the inflection point where the “censorship” of “vagina bones” became a widespread, inspid topic on some parts of the internet. Two, on a more serious note, the idea that Atlus RPGs would one day mix with Nintendo characters would have seemed like a weird fever dream. But it’s real, and has existed for years alongside Nintendo’s other efforts to publish adult-oriented content like Bayonetta 2 and Devil’s Third. Last: this port is one less reason to hold on to your Wii U.

Another year, another try.

Rugby 20
(PC/PS4/XB1)

Publisher: Bigben Interactive | Developer: Eko Software | Release Date: 1/23/20


What is it?
Look, I’m not going to pretend that I know a ton about rugby video games. I do know that BigBen Interactive has made other attempts this console generation to provide a digital rendition of the sport, but the results have not gone very well. This version promises new motion capture animations, online play, and more customization options, and for the sake of rugby union fans everywhere, I hope that’s enough to right the ship. As of January 1, 2020, there’s still a console beta running that curious fans can check out, but you need to pre-order the game to access it.

Why is it important?
I would like to see alternative sports games take the genre by storm. The bigshots like Madden, FIFA, and NBA 2K have ruled for so long that competition is ironically stagnant across all sports. I remember fifteen years ago when Electronic Arts would occasionally make a game like Harry Potter Quidditch World Cup (and some Rugby games of their own) to switch things up, but now we barely get even that. Bigben’s past history as a publisher doesn’t bode well here, and I doubt this game has the budget those juggernauts have, but if just one rugby game gets big and disrupts the system, I’d be very interested to see how AAA companies respond.

A new pillar of the brand?

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners
(PC/VR)

Publisher: Skydance Interactive/Skybound Games | Developer: Skydance Interactive | Release Date: 1/23/20


What is it?
This is a new Walking Dead game that takes place in VR. Like the Twin Peaks game before it, throwing big licenses into virtual reality appears to be the new trend. It’s also a weird game to release in 2020 given the state of the brand. Overkill’s The Walking Dead became a huge bust at the end of 2018, Telltale’s series ended last year after the developer shut down and the project was finished by IP holder Skybound Games, the AMC show The Walking Dead is in its tenth season and is propped up by several spin-offs in various stages of development, and the original comic ended abruptly. This game is essentially zigging where the rest of the brand is zagging.

Why is it important?
I can see some superfans and VR experts getting this game, but I struggle to see who else it’s for. From the trailer and the Steam page, this looks like a mix of first person combat and survival elements with a full range of movement. There could be alternative methods of movement for people that get motion sick, but that’s not immediately clear. I would love to see it do well, and if it’s incorporating more advanced VR techniques like Boneworks is, then that would be wonderful. But I need to see more to be certain.

Space for humor.

Journey to the Savage Planet
(PC/PS4/XB1)

Publisher: 505 Games | Developer: Typhoon Studios | Release Date: 1/28/20


What is it?
Take a game about exploring colorful new worlds with wild creatures and inject co-op and a sense of humor. That gives you have the general gist of Savage Planet. Truth be told, it reminds me a little bit of a lot of games – a little bit of Metroid Prime, The Outer Worlds, even a little No Man’s Sky – but that’s a great set up to deliver a game that’s better than the sum of its parts. Based on my time with Assassin’s Creed III, that seems to be Alex Hutchinson’s specialty.

Why is it important?
Once the publisher of shock-shlock games like Naughty Bear, 505 Games’ rise as a respectable publisher is one of the most positive industry stories of the past decade. Though not everything they’ve put out recently has been great (see: Overkill’s The Walking Dead), they put out both Control by Remedy Games and Indivisible by Skullgirls developer Lab Zero Games. They’re also putting out the PC version of Death Stranding later this year. All of this is to say, if Journey to the Savage Planet turns out well, it’ll be another great moment for the publisher. I’m going to guess though, that the developer, Typhoon Studios, being bought by Stadia means that any potential sequels will only show up there without 505’s involvement.

The Dreadfire Pirate.

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Ultimate Edition 
(PS4/XB1)

Publisher: Versus Evil | Developer: Obsidian Entertainment | Release Date: 1/28/20


What is it?
Versus Evil is doing the smart thing here and releasing the console version of Obsidian Entertaiment’s Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire just months after the release of The Outer Worlds. Part of the fun of this is that Obsidian is now a first party developer for Microsoft, and their games are still coming to the PS4 (and later to Switch) thanks to the weird timing between development of DeadfireThe Outer Worlds, and the acquisition by Microsoft. It’s also worth noting that Deadfire was crowdfunded on Fig, too.

Why is it important?
The Outer Worlds reviewed well across the board, and the PC release of Deadfire reviewed even better. Obsidian is in the spotlight right now, gaining a reputation that looks stellar both for them and for Microsoft. If the console ports of Deadfire do just as well, it’s a perfect way to lead into Grounded, their first exclusive published by Xbox Game Studios. I get a strong feeling a lot of this fell into place by accident, but everyone’s striking while the iron is hot, and Obsidian is basking in the glory. 

The takeover is (almost) over.

Arc of Alchemist
(PS4/Switch)

Publisher: Idea Factory International | Developer: Compile Heart/Idea Factory | Release Date: 1/30/20


What is it?
One of the latest titles from Idea Factory and Compile Heart (Hyperdimension Neptunia, Spectral Souls), Arc of Alchemist takes place in a world ravaged by desert. A fabled way to restore the world exists, but with machines roaming the lands and nations warring for resources, it will take a group of adventurers to unleash the Great Power and save everyone. Will Quinn Bravesford and her team be the group to do it?

Why is it important?
Admittedly, Arc of Alchemist sounds like a lot of RPGs out there. I’m mostly interested in it to see Idea Factory’s rise as an international publisher. For years, they were beholden to companies like NIS America to publish their games outside of Japan, but they’ve recently forged their own path. Their profile doesn’t seem to be growing as fast as Arc System Works’ international branch, but they’re still releasing games at their own pace. Arc of Alchemist also seems like a weird swipe at the Atelier series to me, which NIS America also used to publish outside of Japan, but I’m sure I’m imagining things.

I get strong Code: Realize vibes from this.

Ten Games to Look For is a series that rounds up some of the most exciting releases of the coming month and tells you why they’re worth your time. Even if not every month is on fire. If you’d like to leave a comment, the comments section below is always a good option. You can also get in touch with me on Twitter, and by email too: dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios(dot)com.